This was before the Red Sox would go out and trounce the Angels again, before they would hit four home runs en route to a 9-1 win, before Mike Trout would turn in a rather pedestrian night as he temporarily shifts from center field to DH, nursing an aching thumb.
Right now, Trout is bouncing out of a back room inside Fenway Park’s notoriously cramped visitors’ clubhouse, joining the celebration that has just erupted over Argentina’s crucial World Cup goal against Nigeria.
And it’s like Superman has entered the room.
That’s how different Trout looks from his peers, how much he overshadows so many fellow professional athletes, how impossible it is to ignore his presence.
A 6-foot-2 inch, 235-pound frame guarantees it.
Yet somehow the outsized Trout manages to stay under the radar, at least when it comes to the sort of fame that should accompany an athlete who dominates his sport the way this one does. Trout came to Fenway armed with a loaded statistical résumé, the league leader in home runs and among the top 10 in seven other categories. And though he didn’t leave that way after J.D. Martinez’s 24th blast of the season helped the Red Sox roll to a league-leading 53rd win, Trout can still be found where he has always been since winning unanimous American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.
Trout doesn’t simply tower over his teammates; he towers over the game. He is this generation’s best baseball player, a five-tool package of power and speed, a smiling, affable poster boy for his sport. And to think, at 26 years old, with two MVP trophies already and well on his way to a third, with six All-Star appearances and counting, with statistics after 1,000 career games comparable to the game’s all-time greats, he could be doing this for a decade or more to come.
“It’s like watching LeBron [James] play basketball,” teammate Chris Young said inside that clubhouse Tuesday, not long after Argentina had moved into the knockout round of the World Cup and relieved sighs were emitted where those same cheers had been. “You go to a LeBron game, you feel like he’s not really doing much, you look up at the scoreboard and he’s scored 35 with a triple-double. Mike could go 2 for 5 with a homer and maybe a great catch and that’s just a normal day. That doesn’t even catch you off guard anymore. You look up and see he has 20-something homers and you don’t even feel like it’s anything because you’re so used to seeing it.”
LeBron James is a worldwide star, just as the Argentine soccer player these baseball players had just been watching on television is. But if Lionel Messi would have trouble walking down a street without attracting a mob, Trout remains comparatively anonymous.
“I understand that people might take it for granted,” Young said. “But I don’t think he’s worried about attention. I think his game speaks for itself.”
Of course it does. The problem lies more in how soft-spoken the game of baseball has gotten overall, unable to compete with the ever-rising popularity of the NBA, the indefatigable appeal of the NFL or the worldwide stage of international soccer. While other sports grow more globally, baseball resonates more regionally, and with Trout competing on the West Coast, crafting his magic while so many of the most ardent fans are asleep across the country, his greatness can get lost. Imagine if he played in New York? Or Boston? Or Baltimore?
“I don’t think about that stuff,” Trout said. A native of New Jersey, he’s heard this question before, from plenty of friends back home. “I hear it a lot, for sure. Just being on the East Coast, if I played on the East Coast it’d be different. But I play for the Angels and I’m happy about that.”
Of course devoted baseball fans get it, and among even the most casual ones, any conversation about the game’s best starts with Trout, before making its way through the likes of Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge or Jose Altuve.
Or Mookie Betts.
That was Betts who led off the bottom of the first with a home run (one of four by the Red Sox, including Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez), bringing his own dose of don’t-forget-about-me skills to the conversation. If Trout looks like he could mash every baseball into oblivion but surprises you with his speed, then Boston’s Betts, all 5-9 and 180 pounds of him, looks like he could outrace you around the bases but surprises you with his strength. So different yes, but so alike as well, in displaying the particular appeal of a sport that has no prototypical athletic requirement.
“If you saw Mookie Betts you’d never know he’s the power hitter he is. Smaller frame, but he’s got unbelievable hand to eye coordination and strength,” said Sox pitcher Rick Porcello, Wednesday’s scheduled starter. “[Trout] is definitely physically gifted and you can see his strength and all those things. But you come across guys that are big and strong and they don’t have the plate awareness, smarts, skill set that he has. He’s the total package. You see guys that are strong that can run into a home run every now and then, but he’ll just as easily hit a double to right-center and a home run to left off of you. He’s just such a disciplined hitter, doesn’t chase a lot of pitches. He is who he is for a reason. He’s good at everything.
“You’re talking about two of the best players in the league, and you get to come to the ballpark and watch two of them play the same night, that’s special. To be able to watch them go at it tonight and the entire series, it’s going to be fun.”
Betts’s leadoff shot guaranteed him at least one definitive statistical advantage over the man to whom he finished second in the 2016 AL MVP voting. Trout has homered in every American League ballpark save one.
“If it’s this one don’t say it,” Porcello said.
Sorry. Trout, who has at least four home runs in each of the other AL 14 stadiums, has none in Fenway Park. He couldn’t get one Tuesday, not against starter and winner David Price, against whom he’s never homered.
“I’ve got to believe when it’s all said and done, I think he’ll break that streak,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.